Antidepressants are Anti-Sex

By Sophie Saint Thomas 06/11/14

SSRI's may have helped my sobriety and my personal life, but they aren't helping me with my sex life.

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On a gentle Sunday morning I awoke in my partner's arms, someone with whom I am deeply in love and insatiably attracted to. In that moment the reality was I had no deadlines, no immediate obligations, other than to allow myself to enjoy the rarity of the warmth from the sun.

Yet, as described in a previous article, I was in the throws of benzo withdrawal, half-way through the process, and had not yet taken my morning dosage. The rational serenity of the morning was gobbled up by feelings of panic. I tried to filter calming breaths through a scrambled mind. As he too begin stirring into consciousness and started to run his hands over my body, I felt so out of sorts I was unable to relax and enjoy the sensations. I squirmed out of his arms and scurried to my medicine cabinet where I took my reduced Klonopin dosage, then returned to bed and drifted back to sleep. When I awoke the second time and the withdrawal side effects had subsided, I was able to relax and enjoy the Sunday morning in bed I needed.

I am writing this as someone still dealing with depression and anxiety and trying to find what is the best path for her; medically, spiritually, and in all other manners of healing.

I stopped taking SSRIs prior to meeting my current partner, so the only (I am hesitant to use the word “only” as it has been utter hell) effect prescription pills have had our our sex life is the Klonopin withdrawal, what I describe as “secondary side effects.” The times I described earlier when I haven't felt in the mood to have sex with him, (even typing that turns me on) have been a result of non-sexual side effects of the withdrawal process, such as depression and panic attacks.

Decreased libido is listed as a side effect for Klonopin or other benzodiazepines, but personally I haven't experienced that in the same manner SSRIs affected me. Or maybe once I am totally weaned off Klonopin my orgasms will increase both in occurrence and intensity tenfold, that would be a pleasant surprise.

I have tried almost every SSRI, and while in dire situations they have been life saving, I currently refuse them because I am so sensitive to the side effects, especially the sexual ones. I can't overstate the importance of the understanding of how different our brains are. Just because I experienced these side effects doesn't mean you will, just because I'm refusing them doesn't mean you should, just as a certain medication worked for you doesn't mean it will work for me. I have always been extremely sensitive to the effects of chemicals, legal or not, experiencing both extreme highs and extreme lows.

It is unhealthy to dwell in the past, as our memories are our own fabricated stories rather than reality, and there is no going back, but I used to spend considerable time pondering failed relationships and the role both my depression, subsequent medication, then vast decrease in sex drive affected my time together with previous partners. One long-term partner witnessed me so depressed I couldn't get out of bed even to shower or change out of an adult onesie, originally purchased for a Halloween costume. This was before I got sober and was still drinking, which was always extremely detrimental to my depression, and the situation got so dire I started taking Lexapro. It worked. I was pulled out of my dark hole and able to properly dress myself and function at work, but not in the bedroom. It was as if the nerves in my clit had been disconnected, I was more or less chemically castrated. Even if I could have an orgasm, I certainly had no motivation to try.

I believe sexual intimacy is an essential component of any romantic relationship so I began to wonder about the tradeoff between desire and depression and its effects on a relationship. Which is harder on your partner? Dating someone who is morbidly depressed or having a partner who laughs again, and from the outside seems like herself, but has absolutely no desire to make love? I think this is especially hard when dating someone who has never experienced depression or medication themselves. You can show them the side effects list, and explain how SSRIs affect sex drive, yet on some level, how can one not feel despair when their lover loses interest in sex? No matter how well you understand the chemistry, being repeatedly rejected sexually by your partner hurts. At one point in my life I experienced the flip side of this, my partner was very turned off by my depression. Even if you can understand where it is coming from, and have the strength to rationally convince yourself it isn't you, being sexually rejected hurts.

I am not writing this from a place of sunshine and unicorns. I am writing this as someone still dealing with depression and anxiety and trying to find what is the best path for her; medically, spiritually, and in all other manners of healing. Even after you have found the best treatment method to mental and relationship stability, issues will arise. I am capable of fully feeling the joy present in the Sunday morning waking in my lover's arms with the warmth of sun on my back, but I also understand that feeling will not last forever, nor will the depths of darkness I've been through like my week spent curled up in an adult onesie. There is no permanent land of sunshine and unicorns on Planet Earth, as those dealing with depression know all too well, even when we find the right treatment for us - through a pill or not - rather than search for such a land, a realistic expectation is to find peace in the day to day, through the highs and lows, and to hope great orgasms come along with it. 

If for you, being on SSRIs and suffering the resulting sexual side effects is the only option at the moment, there are things you can do to work through it. For me, as a woman, accepting it would take more to get me off and integrating watching porn and using vibrators into my sex life helped. Of course, speak with your doctor as well about any supplements that may work, and don't be embarrassed, they have heard it all. Earlier, I mentioned how crucial I think sexual intimacy is in a relationship.

Medicated or not, if in a long-term relationship, attraction and sex drive are going to dip and dive and fade as our bodies age, so there are of course other, even more important factors to consider that are also greatly useful when in a relationship affected by loss of sex drive due to antidepressants.

The first is communication. Feeling sad all the time doesn't feel good, and can be embarrassing, and it can be tempting to hide it from our partners. Unfortunately there are still stigmas attached with mental health issues and getting treatment, so the same holds true for medication. If you are suffering and it is affecting your sexual desires, or your relationship in any way, really, it is important to be open and educate your partner on what you are experiencing, so they may be there for you, understand what you are going through, and know there is more to it than you just aren't turned on by them anymore.

This leads me to loyalty. As hard as it is to be the depressed one in a relationship, it is also very difficult to be the partner to someone going through it. You may feel desperate and useless, wanting to help your partner but unsure how. Here is where loyalty comes in. The best thing you can do is be there for them, make sure they are getting professional help, and be kind and patient.

To both parties, remember that while the moments of sunshine on our backs on a lazy Sunday with nothing to do but make love will indeed fade to frantic Mondays, you have to stick together through the good and the bad to feel the warmth. To those struggling with depression, that means remembering love with all your might in the darkest of times and not giving up, on life, on the search for whatever is the best treatment for you.

To those dating those in the dark, or medicated to get through the dark yet disinterested in sex, we need you now more than ever.

Sophie Saint Thomas is a New York City-based writer who also contributes to VICEThe Style Con and xoJane among other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBowieCat. She last wrote about her benzo withdrawal.

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